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The most complete castle in Britain?
Dover Castle (Dover)
Member Name: darren55
Dover Castle (Dover)
Advantages: Fabulous views, epic architecture
Disadvantages: The acting in some of the projected scenes are well bad
I recently went to Canterbury for a conference but one of the excursions was to Dover castle which is approximately 20 miles from Canterbury. The castle is situated on the highest point over the town and dominates the surrounding areas, you really can't miss it. It has a Norman main castle, 17th century barracks, medieval tunnels and underground WWII hospital complex. Entry is £11.50 for the full experience which includes wandering around the main castle, medieval tunnels, walking the extended defence ring of the castle walls and a guided tour of the underground hospital.
The main castle was built between the years 1100 and 1300, it has a huge bailey (or gate) and most of the rooms are still open for looking around, contrasting with walking the Welsh castles where really only the outer shell of the castle survives. Going into the castle involves walking up a short walkway through the bailey and then into the castle proper, you can then take the spiral stone stairway all the way to the top or stop along the way to investigate the side chambers and passageways. The lower rooms have been laid out in an early medieval manner with tables of food set, the king's throne room, a knights bedroom, the kitchen is laid out as though mid way through a day's cooking. Along with the physical exhibits are a series of projected images in which characters from the past tell the story of certain aspects of the rooms you enter, so in the king's chambers you get a rendition of the king lecturing the various nobles for their lack of attention. In the armoury there is a pair of squires looking after their knight's equipment the day after a joust, there are also descriptions of the ladies and lords visiting the castle. These are in colour and move but whilst giving a nice perspective on the times of the castle are perhaps a little over the top.
The top of the castle is of course the star attraction, fully accessible the castle top gives an impression on the size, height and manifest power of the castle as a piece of power politics. From the top the whole town of Dover is visible, the harbour, the road to London and of course all the surrounding walls and ramparts of the castle. It is very easy to see that if the castle was sealed from the inside that any besieging force would have a very hard time taking this tall, strong, heavily armoured castle. The other pleasing aspect of the castle is the remarkable degree of preservation in which the castle has survived the 900 years or so of its existence. The walls are still strong and in good conditions, the roofs of the rooms are as they were centuries earlier and the stone steps are worn but not in a bad way at all. It's amazing to think when walking up and down the steps that you are walking on the same steps Henry II would have stepped on 800 years earlier.
The tunnels are open access and are part 19th and part 13th century, they are very steep at times and though well lit don't really add a lot to the experience. They are simply a warren of tunnels built over the centuries in which soldiers could hide during times of invasion or be used as a storage facility.
WWII underground hospital
The hospital is situated near the far wall of the castle grounds, it was built in 1941 to hold a hospital for the injured soldiers in and around the English Channel. The tour is run by a guide who takes the visitor through the upper levels where the hospital was built, through the tour we follow through audio description the fate of a gunned down pilot who has been taken into the hospital because he was badly injured. Will he survive or not? There is a feeling of claustrophobia for those who don't like enclosed spaces and the lighting has been made to give the feel for the hospital in the war time so it's dim and does flicker to give the impression of bombs landing. There are deeper tunnels built during Napoleonic times which aren't open to the public just yet but are due to open this summer.
There are toilets dotted around the castle, there is a gift shop run by English heritage and a cafe next to the gift shop. I was induced to taste the local Kent beers, ciders and mead when I was there yes it's a hard life but we all have to make sacrifices.
A visit to the castle was well worth it, the castle is huge and it took me a good hour to walk around just the main castle. The guided tour around the underground hospital was fascinating and worth the effort and the walk around the extended grounds looking over the gun embankments where life-size cannon are placed to give a feel for the strategic importance of the castle even into the 20th century. My final thought was of the tide of history that the castle must have seen and that history on this scale changes very quickly at times when I visited there were school groups from both Germany and France both of course were nations which one time wanted to invade and the first line of defence would have been Dover castle. Now it's brooding presence over the town is more friendly and comforting rather than the cold hard times it must have witnessed in times past.
Summary: A brilliant place to visit
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